Great musical humor in “I Love Lucy”

Lucy and EthelSitcoms do not often use musical humor. “I Love Lucy,” by contrast, represents a high watermark of such humor. The reason? The show’s premise involves a bandleader and his bumbling wife who strives to get into show business. The combination of Lucille Ball’s comedic timing, the writing, and the chemistry between the four primary actors delivered iconic episodes that remain widely watched over half a century after they first aired. Often, the comedy originates in the contrast between what is going on musically and what is going on visually. Here is an overview of the episodes that used musical humor. While there are more episodes than this in which humor occurs during musical numbers (such as the episode where Ricky learns Lucy is pregnant while serenading the audience), I’ve focused on those episodes where music is used specifically for humorous effect. Continue reading →

New book celebrates subversive music throughout history

Music: A Subversive HistoryIn Music: A Subversive History, Ted Gioia makes the case that music has challenged cultural norms throughout the ages. This constant reinvention not only helps music flower artistically but facilitates cultural change. What frightens the establishment in one generation gets embraced (and often co-opted) by the establishment a generation or more later. Gioia calls this force “creative destruction.” Music helps tear down walls, liberating society from arbitrary codes designed to control behavior. Tracing this pattern through four thousand years of history, Gioia shows how the force of change usually originates in outsiders and marginalized groups. I like the description from the dust jacket: “Music is essential reading for anyone interested in the hidden sources of music’s timeless power, from Sappho to the Sex Pistols to Spotify.” Continue reading →

Lisa Fisher gives transcendent performance—again!

Lisa FisherIf you’ve never heard Lisa Fisher in concert, you are missing a musical experience that will transport you to another realm. Last night, I attended my third Lisa Fisher concert since 2016, my only regret being that I didn’t know about her years earlier. Words are inadequate to describe these experiences. Transcendent, clearly. Chills, yes. She touches some nerve deep inside you, aided by her astounding backup band Grand Baton and music director J.C. Maillard. They perfectly complement her style, supporting the music with revelatory arrangements of familiar tunes that shake your soul. Continue reading →

Revisiting a masterpiece by Meshell Ndegeocello

Album cover of Meshell Ndegeocello's masterpieceThirteen years have passed since Meshell Ndegeocello released her masterpiece The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams—fourteen years if you count the five-song EP that preceded the release by a year. Despite knowing from her previous albums that she refused to be locked into one box, The World still came as a shock to many fans, including me. It took a few listens to understand her drive to defy expectations—expectations about genre, about how a pop song flows, about lyrics and meaning. Beautiful fragments, incomplete closure, fleeting moments, dissonance, shapeshifting… This is the vocabulary of The World. I explored this and other albums in more depth in Elliptical: The Music of Meshell Ndegeocello, co-written with Andre Akinyele. But I wanted to revisit some of those perspectives here. Continue reading →